By Hadrian Wise.

This Government's attitude to higher education is plain. Charles Clarke is on record as saying, "¦the 'medieval concept' of the university as a community of scholars is only a very limited justification for the state to fund the apparatus of universities. It is the wider social and economic role of universities which justifies more significant state financial support." The attitude this reveals “ that universities are worth paying for primarily as means of facilitating social engineering and increasing economic growth“ is short-sighted, Philistine, repulsive, and wrong.

Short-sighted, in its assumption that usefulness can be predicted. Of course it can't: numerous useful discoveries have been made by accident, the most famous being the discovery of penicillin, and such discoveries are often made in the course of abstruse researches of no obvious use to anybody. We should have to know everything about a subject and what bearing it had on our various ends before we could say conclusively that it was useless“ so even if we do want only what is useful, academic freedom is still the best policy.

Short-sighted too, in that it assumes you can distort academic priorities while retaining the value of degrees. You can't. The more universities play a "social role" the more they admit people because they are poor rather than because they are clever“ the less seriously employers will take degrees, and the less useful degrees will be in helping poor children to improve their prospects.

Philistine, in its failure to acknowledge the intrinsic value of anything except money or ideology. Even things that are useless in achieving prosperity or social cohesion may still be valuable to people  Shakespeare's plays, for instance, which are not in the least bit useful, but are well worth studying, because they show more wisdom about the various kinds of human personality and their characteristic predicaments than any other text. Since, to us, the human personality is the most important of all subjects, since it is arguably the most fascinating phenomenon in the universe, since sitting in the office and paying the mortgage are among the least interesting aspects of that subject, you have to wonder whether somebody who thinks those things the most important we do, who cannot see why anybody should learn about anything not a means to them, is in the grip of a misanthropic nihilism.

Repulsive, in its Stalinist desire to subsume all academic activity under its own narrow and transient conception of the common good. The common good is more than whatever the government of the day happens to say it is, and we all contribute to it in a dazzling variety of ways, not only by sitting in the office, but by having children, by buying goods and services, by obeying the law and upholding tradition, by giving to charity, by being polite to strangers and kind to those in distress, by making people laugh and adorning society with our idiosyncrasies, and by adding, however inconsequentially, to the stock of human thought in the sciences and the arts. A university education cannot teach us to do all these things, but it can teach us to think, the prerequisite for being an independent person who has something to contribute in the first place. Whether it is the best training for one narrow way of contributing, sitting in the office is much less certain. It is repulsive arrogance in the government to seek to impose on universities a function for which they are not obviously suited, at the cost of the function that suits them best.

Wrong, for all the reasons above, but above all, for its total misunderstanding of what education is. Education is not a means to an end, but an end in itself, a means only to becoming educated. In becoming educated, we realise our potential as rational beings, who want not just money, sex, power, and other worldly goods, but who also have a yearning for the truth, the truth about ourselves, our fellows, our past, and the world we live in, not for some other end, but for its own intrinsic interest and importance. In learning to recognize the truth and how best to go about finding it, we learn the most important "transferable skill" of all - how to think - and when we exercise this skill, we experience the highest fulfilment we can know; and, incidentally, but only incidentally, this ability to think (which we pick up better from studying 2,500-year-old ancient Greek philosophy and poetry than we do from any number of "media studies" courses) makes us more useful to potential employers than any amount of "training" masquerading as a degree, by enhancing our ability to learn from any training we have. In the long run, societies are remembered for the thoughts of their most interesting members; if we do not carry on education at the highest level, we are in danger of forgetting the most interesting achievements of the past, in danger of stultifying ourselves to the point where we shall be deservedly forgotten in the future.

We are all capable of thought, and we are all capable of appreciating something of the best that has been thought in the world; all of us should have the chance to appreciate it at school. Some of us are capable of going further, of fully understanding, criticising, disseminating, even adding to, the best that has been thought and said, and it is these people, and only these, who are fit for university. Of course it is desirable that all those who are fit for university actually go, but it is more desirable still that universities should have to cater only for those who are fit for them, and any scheme aimed at the first desideratum that risks forfeiting the second, as this government's attempt to blackmail universities into taking students by postcode obviously does, risks turning dons into schoolmasters, and so risks the destruction of universities as places where true education, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, is carried on: places where everybody is free to develop his own academic interests, in a way that teachers and pupils at school are not.

What is to be done? There are many on the libertarian Right who believe that we could remove the threat to universities by privatising them. But that is far from certain. It is doubtful whether Oxford and Cambridge could carry on the tutorial system without state funding, doubtful how many other universities could survive at all. Jumping out of the frying pan of government control is all well and good, but there is always the risk of jumping into the fire of corporate control and having to offer Hamburger Studies. There is a much easier solution. Abandon the insane target for 50% of school-leavers to go to university by 2010, recognize that only about 10% of the population is fit to go to university in the true sense, insist that universities behave like universities and pursue knowledge disinterestedly for its own sake, and as for the rest of what supposed "universities" currently do to benefit our economy declare that if it really is "useful" to business, then business can jolly well pay for it. Then we shall have much better universities for much less money.


by John Cornish

One CDA supporter laments the loss of our freedoms and is appalled by
the silence from the Tory Opposition

The evolution of British freedoms, law and liberties, and the right of
the citizen to a fair trial in a British courtroom came to an abrupt end
this week. The Daily Telegraph (24th June) reported the event thus:

"Britain has agreed the final form of a new European arrest warrant,
leaving Parliament powerless to block or amend the measure. With little
fanfare, the warrant was formally adopted at a meeting of the Justice
and Home Affairs Council earlier this month attended by David Blunkett.
It becomes part of European law, and so must be implemented by Britain,
even though ministers have yet to put the issue to a vote of any sort in
Parliament... MPs and peers will have no power to change the provisions
of the arrest warrant.. Under the scheme -- to come into force by
January 2004 -- any citizen of the 15 EU states can be arrested and
extradited for a range of offences, some of which are not even crimes in

So there you have it -- a knock at the door, a warrant from a Belgian
judge and you can be dragged away to a foreign police cell to answer any
sort of trumped-up charge. There will be little that your family can do,
nothing that the British Government can do, and there will be no real
chance for you to defend yourself -- especially if your crime is alleged
"xenophobia", or you are a member of a Right-wing or Eurosceptic party.
It is, of course, astonishing that our freedoms have been effectively
removed without even a debate by the nation's elected representatives --
and astonishing that the Labour Party, once a party obsessed by civil
liberties, has allowed this to happen. Yet there has been not one word
about it from the Conservatives -- the Opposition preferring to spend
its evenings drinking in Westminster bars and waffling about being

Meanwhile, the jaded population -- psychologically drugged by football
and fed every kind of vacuous soundbite by the political class -- is
barely aware of its sudden and irrevocable loss of liberty. The Euro
extradition warrant and the abolition of our right to a fair trial in
our own country should have provoked outrage -- the presence of millions
of protesters on our streets. Instead, we sleepwalk to tyranny. This
shameful episode and our betrayal by the politicians underlines just how
far things have gone in the once-sovereign country of Britain. The Magna
Carta, habeas corpus, the Reform Acts of the 19th century, the very
concept of a nation-state protecting its citizens and of its citizens
answerable only to its legally-constituted authority -- all have been
swept away under the tidal wave of the EU.

So when you next hear a Conservative MP or your local constituency
chairman talk about "freedom and democracy", just remind them of the
24th June 2002 -- the day on which it was announced that British people
could be whisked away out of the country by the agents of a foreign
superstate. Still, as long as the football is on and the scratchcards
are still available, who really cares?

'The English Bismarck' (Oskar Schmitz). A Conservative philosopher-politician of towering stature. His vision of Conservatism inspires the mission of CDA

'I do not see however why my self-denying ordinance need extend to a subject which the Conservative Party is endeavouring to withhold from the electorate as sedulously at this election as it did in 1970. I feel the less inhibited because it is a subject which I have made no secret of believing to be of overriding importance for the future of the
British parliament and people... It is for me supremely that kind of question on which, if there be a conflict between the call of country and that of party, the call of country must come first.'

Enoch Powell - from his 'Vote Labour' election speech, 23rd February 1974


'Our party is a broad church, but it is also the party of the nation-state. It must campaign for the sovereignty of the nation and the survival of the pound. It is astonishing to think that these fundamental tenets of conservatism are regarded now with suspicion by the Central Office hierarchy and our born-again social-liberal leadership.'

Mike Smith, CDA Communications Director. Speech to CDA Central London supporters, 7th May 2002


The great Liberal-Unionist crusader